There are many different stages to putting a portfolio together, and it’s an ongoing process – a portfolio is never really finished as a good designer should get to the end of putting one together, and already be self critical about what he / she has done. Really good designers will constantly be looking for new ways of presenting their work, practicing new illustration styles, and developing their flat drawings. So, where exactly do you start?
Step One – Establish what sort of style, sector and market you would suit.
It’s fair to say that most people who are very new to doing fashion design make their biggest mistake by not having a definite focus or theme throughout their work – most people begin designing in a haphazard manner, resulting in a portfolio that isn’t cohesive. For example, some people start off with a clubwear project for girls, then go into another project which is tailoring for men, then back to ladieswear. This presents a very confusing message for whoever is viewing your work, and makes it difficult for them to establish what your creative strengths are.
Think about what sort of product interests you – for instance, would you enjoy working on kidswear? Casual menswear? Denim? Or perhaps you enjoy working more on print and textiles than apparel ideas? Sometimes it’s easier to design product you can relate to, so if you’re a guy, then of course it might be easier to design clothing you and your peers might wear, and the same goes for women finding it easier to design for themselves and their own age range. Of course, we all know that there are many male designers who design for women very well, and vice-versa, but many new designers find it easier to go with own gender design when first starting out. You know what works, what doesn’t, what is most flattering, what isn’t.
Bear in mind that the most common sector for designers to aspire to getting into is womenswear, therefore the market is absolutely saturated with people hoping to land jobs in this area. Cometition is extremely intense, so you have to be the best of the best when it comes to getting into college, uni, or finding a job in this sector. Here in the UK, most fashion design graduates are searching for jobs within womenswear collection – if they are at the commercial end of the market they want to work with stores such as Top Shop and Reiss, while graduates aspiring towards the luxury market want to work with labels such as Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. Like I say, it is really tough out there with so many similar designers fighting for the same jobs, therefore if you can begin to specialise in something a little bit different early on, you will stand a much better chance of finding work later. The more niche areas are: footwear and accessories (especially men’s accessories), sweaters and knitwear, denim (while the market is huge, there aren’t many amazing denim designers out there), kidswear, lingerie and swimwear. For some reason, not many designers initially choose to specialise in these areas, so when jobs do come up, there aren’t many people to choose from, therefore making the competition less intense.
Of course, if mainstream womens / menswear is what your real passion is, you can still do it, but do it really well, and really think about which area to focus on. When I ask some designers what they want to specialise in and they say ‘womenswear’, I try to get them to focus on one particular product area or look within this sector – after all, womenswear and menswear can encompass so many different things! You might want to be diverse, and be a collection designer, or you could specialize in jersey, casuals, outerwear, tailoring, eveningwear, and so on.
At this early stage in your career / training, it’s difficult to say whether you will stick with the specialism you choose now – some people go to fashion college adamant that they want to do eveningwear, but emerge a few years later with a textiles portfolio. Don’t be scared that the portfolio you have now will totally shape what you do later – this work is only a stepping stone, and the above guidelines are intended to give you some focus and direction, so you are able to apply for college / jobs with a more cohesive body of work.
Step Two – Do your research
Now you should have a stronger idea of what your focus will be, it’s really important that you research the market. So, if you are looking to design casual menswear for instance, get out there and see what is happening in that sector. Visit stores such as American Eagle, Gap, Abercrombie, etc – note the types of fabrics used, silhouettes, textures, colours. Look on store websites, in brochures and catalogs (it’s worth keeping a couple of these at home, so you have an immediate reference if you’re stuck for shapes and ideas later on).
Establish what you do and don’t like about what you see in the stores – what are the companies doing well, and what could they improve on? What would you do differently?
Build up a real understanding of your target consumer – when designing, it’s much easier if you create an image of them in your mind – what do they look like, how do they wear their clothes, where do they hang out, what magazines do they read? Doing all of this research will make it easier to actually design realistic product when the times comes.
Step Three – Find a theme / get inspiration
It’s impossible to design without inspiration and a theme, but sometimes it’s easier said than done to find those things! The key is to get out there and start searching for interesting images to use. There’s no point staying at home in your bedroom or studio waiting for inspiration to strike – it doesn’t happen, believe me! You need to get some sort of visual stimulus – look everywhere for it – in the park you might be inspired by the way the leaves are changing color for Fall and the textures of the plants, or you might visit a museum or gallery and find the colours in a painting particularly striking. Just sitting in a café, people watching can be hugely inspiring – watch the way they put their outfits together / do their hair and cosmetics / how they accessorize.
Read as many fashion design books as you can find, together with art, design and fashion magazines, blogs online, etc.
In specialist book stores you may find industry magazines devoted to colour, fabric, trend and concepts – these are excellent for gaining an idea of what is going on in the real industry, but they are expensive, so sometimes it’s best to simply visit the store, and spend a little time just flicking through them and absorbing as much as possible.
Your theme and inspiration can also be sparked by a photo, post card, film you’ve seen, a concert you’ve been to, a person, a piece of jewellery, historical elements, the list is endless.
It’s also impossible to even begin to design a collection / begin a project without fabrics. When I was at university I used to do things the opposite way round- begin to come up with shapes, ideas and silhouettes- without having any idea of what sort of fabric I was going to use. I found the going tough, until my tutors pointed out that it would become much easier if I actually took the time to research some fabrics – I did, and guess what, they were right! Being surrounded by a pile of fantastic fabrics, trims, buttons, ribbons, and fastenings can’t fail to inspire, so visit as many stores and fabric suppliers as possible. The fabrics you use for the basis of your portfolio projects don’t have to be new - if funds are low, use fabrics from clothes you don’t wear anymore, pieces from markets or thrift stores, or some stores will give you off cuts of fabrics or samples for free / discounted.
I hope you're feeling a little more inspired, and ready to get out there and begin your first projects! In the next article, we’ll go into more depth about what you should include in the project, layout, and presentation.
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